Different Year, Different Approach

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Billy Donovan paused for a few seconds, intensely searching his mind, trying to remember the player who muttered a memorable quote.

Florida's basketball coach, who brought the school's first national basketball championship home to Gainesville in April, eventually gave up Wednesday at the SEC Basketball Media Days. But he still reeled off the 31 words that one of his players so thoughtfully spoke last week. The message of the statement rang too true.

"I wish I could recall who said it," Donovan said. "But anyway, he said, ‘Everything that's being fed to our team right now is poison. And the only way it kills our team, is if we swallow it and take it in and believe it."

As the Gators start their quest to repeat, Donovan and his staff constantly have reminded their players to block out the attention.

With all five of their starters returning, Florida seems poised for a return trip to the Final Four. One could make a valid argument by stating that this Gators squad will turn out to be far more talented than the one that hoisted a championship trophy in Indianapolis.

But all Donovan wants from his Gators is focus.

Focus on the future. Focus on the present. For sure, not an ounce of focus on the past.

"It's just human nature to get complacent, to be content about previous accomplishments," Donovan said. "I mean, to be honest, I think all the questions about our basketball team are legitimate concerns. They're human beings. More people suffer from prosperity than they do through poverty, and being able to handle success is one of the most difficult things in our society."

Early indications reveal that Florida has resisted the urge to feel satisfied from last season's 33-6 campaign. Helping that attitude is the realization that the Gators possess a real chance at repeating, or at least returning to the Final Four.

The Gators bring back 99 percent of their starts and 93.2 percent of their points.

Joakim Noah, the Final Four's Most Valuable Player, shunned the NBA Draft for an opportunity at back-to-back titles. Corey Brewer and Al Horford join Noah on the SEC Coaches' All-SEC First Team. Taurean Green made the All-SEC Second Team, and Lee Humphrey will provide valuable senior leadership.

"Oh, we're hungry. Real hungry," Humphrey said. "It doesn't matter that we won it last year. We want to do it again, and we're working like we didn't do it last year. We have a lot to prove because it's a new year. Last year and the championship is over."

Donovan admits to being surprisingly thrilled by the Gators' attitude thus far. The team took a trip in August to Niagara, Canada, taking on two Canadian teams in exhibition games and spending important time bonding.

Plus, the Gators have been receptive to changes proposed by Donovan and his staff. They could've resisted, Donovan said. They could've revolted, resorting to the opinion that last year's way got them a championship. But they're showing trust, which leads Donovan to believe they're capable of handling a new challenge.

"We climbed the mountain and got to the top of the mountain," Donovan said. "But the path to the top of that mountain is different now. We can't take the same path. We've got to take a different path. And that's what we're working toward while trying to ignore all the people telling us how good we can be."

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